Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years? Why the Answer to This Question Matters

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Ah, the classic interview question. It may seem stupid, but the answer should matter to you. Here's why—and how to answer it to impress.

It's a stereotypical interview question with a stereotypical answer. 

Hiring Manager: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Candidate: In your job.

Ba-dum-ba. I wouldn't ask this question in an interview, and I don't think it's a great way for a hiring manager to get at what they really want to know, which is, will you be in this position for a long term, or are you looking to move upwards rapidly.

But, it's an excellent question to ask yourself. So, sit back and ask yourself, just where do you see yourself in five years?

Lots of people don't sit down and think about where they do want to be in five years. It's pretty critical that you have a plan because if you don't, you end up just wandering through life, and other people end up choosing your path for you.

If you don't have any desire to take responsibility for yourself (and lots of people don't, although they don't admit it), that's fine.

Let others control you. No skin off my nose, except you'll be writing me complaining about how your career stagnated and your boss is abusive and blah, blah, blah. I've heard it all.

Related Article: Paving Your Own Path: The Circuitous Journey of a Female Entrepreneur

So, think through the following scenarios:

Do You Want to Be at the Same Company? 

Some people are happy to stay at the same company; others want to move on every few years. There are pros and cons to both. The pros of staying at the same company include:

  • Building up company specific knowledge. This makes you valuable to the company.
  • No guessing about company culture.
  • Long term relationships.
  • Chances for growth both upwards and laterally. Frequently, if you want to change careers, moving laterally in a company where you're already a known quantity is the easiest way to do so.
  • Lower stress. Job hunting stinks. You take risks in leaving a job where you're comfortable and moving to a new one.
  • Long term jobs often look good on a résumé, especially if you can demonstrate growth.

The cons of staying at the same company include:

  • Your growth is limited by the chance that someone else in your company will quit.
  • If the job isn't ideal, you could be doing better someplace else.
  • Pay often doesn't increase rapidly. Many companies have internal compensation rules that limit the amount you can receive, even with a promotion.
  • Stay too long at a job and people start to wonder if, instead of choosing to stay, no one else would take you.

Do You Have the Education You Need to Reach Your Goals? 

Lots of people put off going back to school or getting the additional training they need because they are too old for school, or the training program will be stressful.

The reality is, if it takes you ten years to get your college degree, you'll be ten years older. If you don't get that degree, you'll still be ten years older in ten years, but you won't have the degree you want.

If you want to be in a different career, map out how you're going to get the education and training you need now.

What About Family? 

Yes, you should think about these things as part of your career path. You may love your current commute, but if you'll have school age children in five years, is the school district a good one?

Do you want to have children within the next five years? How are you going to pay for maternity leave and daycare? Or will you quit work to stay home with the baby?

Remember, FMLA leave is unpaid at most companies and daycare costs a blooming fortune.

Related Article: Ready For a Career Change? Your Prep Guide to Jumpstart Your New Life

Children aren't the only family goals you need to think about. Do you want to be married? Divorced? What about your parents? Are they going to need care within the next five years? How will you handle that? What's your relationship like with your siblings? Is that how you want it to be?

All of these family-based questions also affect your career. If you're a road warrior, will you be able to continue that if your parents are starting to head downhill? If not, think about how your career plan will affect your family.

Do You Want a Promotion? 

Some people are happy where they are at the level they are. Some people want to move up the ladder. If you want a promotion, what are you going to do to accomplish that?

Look at people who are already in the positions you want. What changes do you need to make in order to get to those positions? What knowledge and skills do they have that you lack?

What experiences have they had that you need to have? How are you going to get these experiences?

Lots of people sit back and hope that their boss will recognize how fabulous they are and promote them. Sometimes that happens, and it can be awesome.

But many managers aren't spending their day-to-day worrying about the career progression of their employees.

Not everyone wants a promotion, so how can your boss know that you want one if you don't speak up? Ask what you need to do.

Ask if you can serve on a cross-functional team. Ask you if you can take a stretch assignment. If you want to be higher up the food chain in five years, start planning now.

Related Article: When a Promotion is Not a Promotion: What Can You Do?


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